Flu – Information and Treatment for Flu

Flu – Remedies for the Treatment of Flu

Yesterday, you felt fantastic. Today, you feel 100 years old and counting. Your head aches, your skin feels sore to the touch, and you’re chilled to the bone even though your forehead is on fire. Welcome to the wonderful world of the flu virus.

“People use the term ‘flu’ to describe any viral, upper-respiratory-tract infection. But strictly speaking, influenza is a very distinctive viral agent,” says Marcia Kielhofner, M.D., a clinical assistant professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. “Flu viruses occur yearly and attack almost exclusively between the months of October and April,” she continues.

As far as who gets the flu, it seems to occur initially in children. “We’ll start to see an increasing level of absenteeism within the schools and an increasing number of children hospitalized for some sort of respiratory illness. Following that,we’ll see adults being hospitalized with pneumonia or with worsening of an underlying heart or lung problem,” she explains.

While there are two major strains of the flu virus-influenza A and influenza B-each strain changes slightly from year to year, so being infected one year doesn’t guarantee protection against the flu the following year. “Every once in a while, we’ll get what’s referred to as a ‘pandemic.’ This is when we see an entirely new type of influenza virus that is associated with a much higher rate of infection and death. The last one reported in the United States was in 1977,” says Kielhofner.

Regardless of the strain, the symptoms are generally the same. They include a high fever, sore throat, dry cough, severe muscle aches and pains, fatigue, and loss of appetite. Some people even experience pain and stiffness in the joints. Usually, the aches, pains, and fever last only three to five days. The fatigue and cough, however, can hang on for several weeks.

The change in flu strains from year to year also makes it hard to develop 100 percent effective flu vaccines. “We tend to make vaccines that contain antibodies to the previous year’s strain, which presents a real obstacle to fully protecting people from the flu each year,” explains W Paul Glezen, M.D., a pediatrician in the Influenza Research Center, a professor of microbiology and immunology and of pediatrics, and chief epidemiologist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Still, flu vaccines manage to be about 80 percent effective when received before the flu season begins (ideally in September or October). So, if you really can’t afford to get sick, a flu shot may not be a bad idea. And, if you fall in a high-risk group (see “Should You Get a Flu Shot?”), a flu shot is a priority.

On the other hand, if you don’t manage to outrun this relentless bug, you can do a few things to ease some of the discomforts and give your body a chance to fight back.

Get plenty of rest. “This is especially important due to the high fever that accompanies the flu,” says Evan T. Bell, M.D., a specialist in infectious diseases at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. This shouldn’t be hard to do considering fatigue is one of the main symptoms. You won’t feel like doing much other than lounging in bed or on the couch. Consider it a good excuse to take a needed break from the daily stresses of life. And if you absolutely must continue to work, at least get to bed earlier than usual and try to go into the office a little later in the morning.

Take aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen-if you must. “One of the characteristic symptoms of influenza is a high fever that ranges anywhere from 102 to 106 degrees Fahrenheit,” says Kielhofner. “Headaches are also seen almost universally with influenza,” she adds. Lowering the fever will help to prevent dehydration and will cut down on the severe, shaking chills associated with fever. On the other hand, since a fever may actually help your body fight the influenza bug (see “Influenza Myths”), you may want to try to let the fever run its course if you can. “The aspirin- and ibuprofen ­containing drugs tend to work better against the aches and pains, while the acetaminophen works best on the fever,” says Bell. But both doctors warn that people who have a history of gastrointestinal problems and/or ulcer disease should avoid taking aspirin and ibuprofen, because these medications have been shown to further complicate these conditions. And Glezen adds that individuals aged 21 and under should avoid taking aspirin during the flu season because the combination of aspirin and the flu in this age group has been associated with Reye’s syndrome, an often-fatal illness characterized by sudden, severe deterioration of brain and liver function.

Drink, drink, drink. This doesn’t mean alcoholic beverages, of course. But drinking plenty of any other nonalcoholic, decaffeinated liquid (caffeine acts as a diuretic, which actually increases fluid loss) will help to keep you hydrated and will also keep any mucous secretions you have more liquid. “Clear broth that is salty and warm tends to agree with people when they have the flu and are experiencing a general loss of appetite,” says Glezen. Juices are also good for keeping some nutrients coming in when you’re not eating much else.

Humidify your home in winter. “Influenza viruses survive better when the humidity is low, which explains why they tend to show up more during the winter, when we use artificial heat to warm our homes,” says Glezen. Humidifying your home in the winter not only helps to prevent the spread of flu, it also makes you feel better once you have it. “When you are really sick, a little extra humidity in the form of a warm- or cool-mist humidifier works wonders,” he adds.

Suppress a dry cough. For a dry, hacking cough that’s keeping you from getting the rest you need, you can reach for over-the-counter relief. “Cough remedies containing dextromethorphan are best for a dry cough,” says Kielhofner.

Encourage a “productive” cough. A cough that brings up mucus, on the other hand, is considered productive and should not be suppressed with cough medicines. Drinking fluids will help bring the mucus of a productive cough up and will ease the cough a little as well, according to Glezen.

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